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Civil War Casualties

There is not anything fun about the Civil War casualties...

It is very sobering to stop and look at the truly tragic cost of life from this war. The total American Civil War casualty count is usually said to be 618,000-620,000. This has been the accepted norm for more than 100 years. Where does this come from? Good question...

It comes from the work of two dedicated amateur historians of the late 1800s. They were William F. Fox and Thomas Leonard Livermore, both veterans of the Union Army. These two made their estimates and came to their conclusions through extensive study of battle reports, muster lists, etc.

In 1889 Fox released his definitive work, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865. This included a wealth of statistical data from the Civil War. From the height and weight of the average Union soldier to the similarities of Gettysburg and Waterloo this book is full of information. Fox gave very good information concerning Union casualties, but his estimates for Confederate casualties were very "rough."

In 1900, Livermore released his book, Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America, 1861-65. In his book he went to great lengths to create a better estimate of Confederate casualties. In the end he decided that Confederate deaths from disease must have been proportional to Union deaths from disease.

Based largely on these two men's work Civil War death estimates have long been accepted roughly as follows:

  • USA battle deaths: 110,070
  • USA deaths by disease: 250,152
  • USA total deaths: 360,222
  • CSA battle deaths: 94,000
  • CSA deaths by disease: 164,000
  • CSA total deaths: 258,000

For a total of 618,222 soldiers dead as a result of the Civil War.

While those numbers are terrible, they are probably not high enough...

Antietam: Casualties at Dunker Church
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Not High Enough?

That is right...

As a general rule, most historians were sure that these numbers were too low, but there was not enough information available to make a better estimate of Civil War casualties.

Until recently that is...

Dr. J. David Hacker of Binghamton University has used census data to develop a better estimate of the number of soldiers lost in the Civil War. Basically, he compared the number of 20-30 year old males in the 1860 census to the number of 30-40 year old males in the 1870 census. By doing this, he was able to see how many had died in this time period. His estimate loses some accuracy; because, he was forced to make several assumptions due to inconsistent census taking and issues such as immigrants and foreign-born soldiers not being properly accounted for. Also, he had to correct for factors such as natural death rates from disease, etc. Despite these issues, his results are astounding...

His new estimate puts the number of men killed in Civil War at between 650,000 and 850,000. With this range, Dr. Hacker has settled on a rough estimate of 750,000 men killed in the American Civil War.

There are two main issues that his method cannot address. The first is civilian Civil War casualties which most historians would agree are badly underestimated. Secondly, his method does not allow him to make any estimates concerning how many of these Civil War deaths should be attributed to each side. Since people from both countries fought for the opposing armies, census data can not really show how many losses came from each army.

To begin to see the huge impact this loss of life had to have had, consider this...

The population in the United States in 1860 was roughly 31 million. The population in the United States in 2012 is estimated to be roughly 315 million. If we were to suffer losses comparable to the Civil War, we would see the deaths of roughly 7.6 million soldiers over the course of a 4 year war...

That number is mind boggling. That many deaths equals more than 5 times the size of the current US active military (Army, Marines Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard) ...

That kind of devastation would definitely have a long lasting impact on all facets of life within a nation. It really does go beyond true comprehension. I don't believe we are capable of understanding the immensity of sacrifice during, nor the tragic sadness that must have followed the American Civil War...

Five Deadliest Civil War Battles

While I intend to expand this page to go into more detail on Civil War casualties (prisoners, wounded, etc.), I will end with a list of the five costliest battles of the Civil War. The numbers given are casualties which include killed, wounded, captured, and missing...

  1. Battle of Gettysburg: ~ 46,286
  2. Battle of Chickamauga ~ 34,624
  3. Battle of Spotsylvania ~ 31,820
  4. Battle of Chancellorsville ~ 30,500
  5. Battle of the Wilderness ~ 28,791

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